Sunday, 30 August 2009

Book of the Week and bibliography - Tracy Chevalier, Remarkable Creatures

Remarkable Creatures is the sixth novel by Tracy Chevalier. Chevalier is known as a writer of historical fiction, and this book fits firmly in that category. The novel also addresses the issue (which remains problematic) of recognition of the contribution of female scientists. Chevalier’s novels are all collectable, especially her second “Girl with a Pearl Earring”. Early copies were issued with the misspelling “Earing” on the rear cover. This was subsequently corrected, and the version with the error remains her most valuable book in the secondary market (£250 plus at present from a dealer).

Chevalier was born in October 1962 in Washington, DC. She is of Romande Swiss descent (with possible French Huguenot ancestry) on her father's side, and currently lives in London with her husband and son. She was raised in Washington, D.C and after receiving her B.A. in English from Oberlin College she moved to England in 1984 where she worked several years as a reference book editor. Leaving her job in 1993, she began a year-long M.A in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Her tutors on the course were novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. Her career began with the book The Virgin Blue but she became well known with her novel Girl with a Pearl Earring, a book based on the creation of the famous painting by Vermeer. The film based on the novel received three Academy Award nominations in 2004.

"In the year of the 150th anniversary of Origin of Species, set in a town where Jane Austen was a frequent visitor, Tracy Chevalier once again shows her uncanny sense for the topical. In the early nineteenth century, a windswept beach along the English coast brims with fossils for those with the eye! From the moment she's struck by lightning as a baby, it is clear Mary Anning is marked for greatness. When she uncovers unknown dinosaur fossils in the cliffs near her home, she sets the scientific world alight, challenging ideas about the world's creation and stimulating debate over our origins. In an arena dominated by men, however, Mary is soon reduced to a serving role, facing prejudice from the academic community, vicious gossip from neighbours, and the heartbreak of forbidden love. Even nature is a threat, throwing bitter cold, storms, and landslips at her. Luckily Mary finds an unlikely champion in prickly, intelligent Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class spinster who is also fossil-obsessed. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty and barely suppressed envy. Despite their differences in age and background, Mary and Elizabeth discover that, in struggling for recognition, friendship is their strongest weapon. Remarkable Creatures is Tracy Chevalier's stunning new novel of how one woman's gift transcends class and gender to lead to some of the most important discoveries of the nineteenth century. Above all, it is a revealing portrait of the intricate and resilient nature of female friendship."


The Virgin Blue, Penguin, 1997
Girl With A Pearl Earring, HarperCollins, 1999
Falling Angels, HarperCollins, 2001
The Lady and the Unicorn, HarperCollins, 2003
Burning Bright, HarperCollins, 2007
Remarkable Creatures, HarperCollins, 2009

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